Why Evolution Is Misunderstood

by P.J. Levi

Recently, University of Chicago biologist Jerry Coyne embarked on a “BBQ, Evolution, and Atheism” speaking tour of the Southeast. At one of his stops along the way, a friend and I attended the event, a talk on “Why Evolution Is True (But Not Many People Accept it).” We found Coyne in a lecture hall packed with biologists, “brothers and sisters,” to whom he imparted pastorly assurance as he recited the evolutionary creed. Coyne appeared to assume that all present shared his dismay at the shameful state of the unbelievers, blinded by faith in God instead of in Darwin, unyielding to the forces of change and the latest scientific discoveries.

If he understood the meeting as a gathering of the faithful, however, then he might have been upset to learn that among the biologists in the room there was, in fact, no firm consensus on Darwinian theory. His vehement intensity was also confusing. In Coyne’s view there is evidently a dire need for the world to accept the predominance of Darwinian evolution as fact, but it was unclear why this is so urgently important. If unbelievers fail to shed their ungodly faith in God right away, what imminent disaster awaits? By the end of the presentation, my friend and I were still unsure.

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There are many aspects of evolutionary theory. Darwin was responsible for one major hypothesis: that most evolutionary change is due to natural selection. The idea is that the differences between organisms are the result of mutations that have conferred reproductive benefits to their carriers, thereby spreading through populations, one after another. Coyne’s strategy is to seize on this one contention, but then try to support it by gathering evidence for all the other aspects of evolution — including genetic change over time, common ancestry, and speciation. He equates the entire theory with the Darwinian component, which was devised before genetics. While this may reflect a popular understanding of evolution, it is profoundly in error…

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